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What’s the Difference Between Probiotics, Prebiotics, and Postbiotics?

A woman at the pharmacy reading a supplement box and looking something up on her phone.
Dragana Gordic/Shutterstock.com

Probiotics and prebiotics are words you’ve probably heard quite often, along with an increased focus on gut health. Postbiotics are a newer addition to the microbiome team, and they’ve become a research heaven for scientists worldwide. But what’s the difference between these three “biotics,” and what exactly can they do for you?

When it comes to scientific terms, things can get confusing for the layperson, and, for many, this is the case with probiotics, prebiotics, and postbiotics. However, knowing what these are, and their benefits, could make a huge difference when it comes to your health and wellness.

That’s why we’re explaining what these three “biotics” are, how they can help, and how you can get ’em!

Probiotics

Commonly described as live microorganisms, or bacteria, probiotics colonize our gut and bring a ton of potential benefits to our entire body. They’ve been the subject of numerous studies since the 1960s, and have since earned a pretty good reputation in the medical field.

Previously, bacteria had always gotten a bad rap, as it was thought they were always harmful to our bodies. However, specific strains have been found to be completely life-changing. If you’ve never given much thought to the roles bacteria and other microorganisms play in your body, you’ll likely find the video above on the microbiome incredibly fascinating.

Whether ingested as a supplement or via food, it’s important to know which bacteria are considered probiotics and how to figure out which you need.

The following are the most common probiotic strains:

  • Lactobacillus
  • Bifidobacterium
  • Saccharomyces
  • Enterococcus
  • Streptococcus
  • Pediococcus
  • Leuconostoc
  • Bacillus
  • Escherichia coli

Of course, everyone’s body is different. Just as people don’t get identical results from the same workout routine or diet, not everyone will have the same reaction to increasing (or decreasing) their consumption of probiotics.

To get started, you can experiment by increasing your consumption of healthy fermented foods. If you want to take a more precise look at your gut biome, companies like Viome and Psomagen offer microbiome tests. These determine which types of bacteria you already have in your gut, and which you should consider supplementing.

Potential Health Benefits of Probiotics

Probiotic foods including nuts, leeks, and a glass of yogurt on a platter.
Tatjana Baibakova/Shutterstock.com

Every probiotic is different and creates a specific effect in the human body. That’s why, when some are paired, they can do much more than they can individually. Some of the most common health benefit claims of probiotics include:

  • Improving digestion
  • Promoting optimal hormone balance
  • Reducing stress and anxiety
  • Eliminating brain fog
  • Increasing energy levels
  • Reducing inflammation
  • Protecting against coronary diseases
  • Improving sleep
  • Promoting fertility and supporting the menstrual cycle
  • Treating specific gut-related conditions, such as diarrhea, ulcerative colitis, Chron’s disease, vaginal infections, and candida

Probiotic Supplements & Food Sources

Probiotics can usually be found at any grocery or health store in the supplement section. However, do keep in mind that supplements do not undergo any tests or approvals by the FDA.

This means it’s the manufacturer’s responsibility to ensure their safety and efficiency. This can make many people question whether taking a supplement is beneficial at all. Luckily, sites like Examine and labdoor provide reviews of the best supplements that have been thoroughly tested by third-party labs.

Another good way to ensure you’re getting beneficial bacteria into your body is by consuming specific bacteria-containing foods, such as yogurt, cheese, sourdough, kombucha, and other fermented foods.

Naturally, you might think you can skip the whole supplement thing and just get everything you need from food. The problem is, you’d have to eat an insane amount of these foods every single day. Even then, you might not absorb all the probiotics you need.

That’s why taking a supplement from a trusted source is still your best option.

Daily Body Restore Probiotic

In the top 10 on LabDoor.

Prebiotics

A variety of prebiotic foods on a counter, including asparagus, onions, and leeks.
SewCream/Shutterstock.com

Prebiotics are also known as dietary fiber, and they’re the food for probiotics. Prebiotics help probiotics thrive in your digestive tract. This type of fiber is, therefore, called “indigestible,” as it literally passes through your system to feed your bacteria.

Unlike probiotics, you can absolutely get the necessary amount of prebiotics from food. They can also be taken as a supplement, such as the popular Benefiber, but it’s usually best to try and get all you need from your meals.

Prebiotics are found in carbohydrates. Some of the highest content is found in the following foods:

  • Chicory root
  • Jerusalem artichokes
  • Dandelion greens
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Asparagus
  • Bananas
  • Leeks
  • Apples
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Pumpkins and winter squash
  • Oats
  • Flaxseeds
  • Seaweed
  • Konjac root

If you add more of these vegetables and fruits to your diet, they’ll work in tandem with your probiotic supplement to keep your microbiome balanced and healthy.

Postbiotics

A recent discovery in the microbiome world, postbiotics are the byproducts of probiotics. They’re not living microorganisms, but rather, include things like enzymes, organic acids, peptides, and polysaccharides. Postbiotics are showing many promising health benefits, including as an anti-inflammatory, immune-booster, and antioxidant.

Studies are now ongoing worldwide, as scientists want to better understand all of the potential benefits of postbiotics, as well as how much they contribute to the entire microbiome. As they’re byproducts of probiotics, postbiotics remain in your system for much longer. Therefore, they can continue to heal, protect, and repair your gut microbiome longer than probiotics.

Putting It All Together

To keep your microbiome happy and healthy, a good combination of all three ‘biotics’ needs to exist. Again, the only way to get to this point is to eat fermented foods that are rich in dietary fiber and take a daily probiotic supplement. Together, these will then produce postbiotics that will help your gut thrive.


Now that you know the difference between pro-, pre-, and postbiotics, it’s time to include more fiber-rich foods in your daily meals. Your microbiome will thank you!

Karla Tafra Karla Tafra
Karla is a certified yoga teacher, nutritionist, content creator and an overall wellness coach with over 10 years of international experience in teaching, writing, coaching, and helping others transform their lives. From Croatia to Spain and now, the US, she calls Seattle her new home where she lives and works with her husband. Read Full Bio »

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